year of the boar japan 2019

2019 is the Year of the Boar (in Japan) and Year of the Pig (in China). More specifically in the Chinese Zodiac, it is the Year of the Earth Pig, which waddles into the spotlight once every 60 years.

And it was 60 years ago on May 26, 1959 in the last Year of the Earth Pig, that members of the IOC met in Munich, Germany for the 55th General Session of the International Olympic Committee to decide which city – Brussels, Detroit, Tokyo or Vienna – would host the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

In a decisive vote that required only one round, the IOC selected Tokyo, which took a majority 34 votes of the possible 58. Detroit came in a distant second with only 10 votes.

What were the reasons given for Tokyo’s winning bid in 1959?

Successful Asian Games: in 1958, Tokyo hosted the Asian Games, where over 1,800 athletes from 20 nations participated in 13 different events. As the Detroit Times wrote the day after its selection, “Tokyo, a strong favorite in recent months, after the world-wide fanfare it received after its holding of the recent Asian Games, was given the 1964 award.”

Fred Wada: Wada, a Wakayama native, was a Japanese American who hosted the Japan swimming team when they competed at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and was instrumental in lobbying IOC members in Latin America in support of the Tokyo bid for the 1964 Olympics.

Cancellation of the 1940 Tokyo Olympics: Tokyo was awarded the right to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, but the threat of global conflict made the organization of those Games untenable, so they Olympics were cancelled in both 1940 and 1944. Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee, would mention that they lost their chance to stage those Games because of “unfortunate circumstances,” implying that 1964 would be a second chance.

Avery Brundage: Brundage was a dominant president of the International Olympic Committee from 1952 to 1972. And he was someone deeply familiar with Asia, particularly its art. After visiting an exhibition of Chinese art in London in 1935, he began to amass a collection of Asian art, much of which would be donated to the new wing of the Memorial Museum in San Francisco. In his speech at the opening of the new wing, Brundage professed his admiration for Asia.

We think in terms of years, Orientals think in terms of generations, or of centuries, and some Indian philosophers even think in terms of five thousand year cycles. The great religions all originated in Asia. The Chinese invented silk, paper, gunpowder, porcelain, printing, and a hundred other things, and had a well developed civilization when Europe was in the throes of the dark ages and most of America a wilderness, inhabited only by savages. (From The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage, by Heinz Schobel.)

Avery Brundage Visiting an art exhibition in Tokyo, 1958
Avery Brundage Visiting an art exhibition in Tokyo, 1958, from The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Supporters of the Detroit bid didn’t take kindly to what they perceived as Brundage’s outsized influence and bias for bringing the Olympics to Asia. One of the leaders of the Detroit bid, Fred Matthaei, was quoted as saying, “We got the impression the committee wanted to hold the Games on another continent.”

The editorial in the May 27, 1959 editorial page of the Detroit Times was blunter in its criticism of Brundage.

Brundage is a native Detroiter. The local delegation hoped that fact might help their campaign. It didn’t. It merely proved how little they know the egotistic Mr. Brundage. He insists piously and repeatedly that his position as president of the IOC prevents his taking sides. But he made no secret of his leaning toward Tokyo. His explanation for the about-face in principle is that Tokyo lost the 1940 games because of the war. He indicated he deemed it an accident of fate. He ignored the argument that in 1940 the Japanese were engaged in an aggressive war and, accordingly, deserve no special consideration.

Whatever the reason, the Olympics came to Tokyo in 1964, thanks to that crucial vote in 1959, the Year of the Earth Pig.

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This is part two of the photographs taken by Dick Lyon, member of the United States rowing team. After his four-man coxless team won the bronze medal at the Toda Rowing course, Lyon had the time to walk around Tokyo with his Bronica Camera. Here are a few of them:

Tokyo 1a

Outside a candy store – It’s a common story during the 1964 Olympics: the best athletes in the world visibly sticking out in homogenous Japan, particularly those who hovered around 200 cm tall. Lyon’s rowing teammates, who joined him in these perambulations around the Olympic Village in Yoyogi, were no exception. Here is Lyon’s rowing mate, Theo Mittet, with two giggling women from the candy shop. Note Mittet’s fancy footwear.

TOkyo 5 001

 

A pub in Tokyo that appears to be connected to a racetrack – The signs appear to list names of horses and jockies. These “taishyuu sakaba” were low-cost drinkeries for the everyday salaried worker, whom, I suppose, had a love for the horses. This one lists all items as selling for 100 yen, or some 28 cents at the time.

Tokyo 11 reading racing forms

 

 

 

A man studying the horse racing data of the day – This image of intent concentration belies the fact that the Japanese government ultimately decided that this form of gambling was a necessary form of recreation for the average citizen, as well as the well as the tax revenue it generated. The Japanese government thought briefly in the early 1960s about banning such forms of gambling, but thought better of it, according to this report.

Tokyo 1b

 

Shimbashi Station – In 1964 and today, this was the hangout for salarymen where they ate and drank in the many tiny eateries underneath and near the train tracks.

Tokyo 12a

 

Ginza and the San Ai Building – In 1964 and today, Ginza is the upscale shopping area of Tokyo, and has for a long time been considered the most expensive real estate in the world. A symbol of Ginza glitz and glamor has been the San Ai Building, a glass tower that has gleamed electric light since it opened in 1962, a couple of years before the Olympics.

Tokyo 13 001

 

A View from Tokyo Tower – In 1964, the Tokyo landscape around Tokyo Tower was flat. And yet, my guess is that 19 years before, at the end of the Second World War, after enduring considerable firebombing by allied planes, the landscape would have been considerably flatter. In less than two decades, Tokyo was re-built and transformed, a miraculous revival for the world to see.

Paul Mccartney one on one

It was 50 years ago, when Sgt. Pepper taught his band to play. (It’s the album’s 50th anniversary!)

It was 51 years ago, when the Beatles came to Japan to play.

It was 53 years ago, in the year of the Tokyo Olympics, when the Beatles had the top five on the Billboard Hot 100, the only act ever to hold the top five spots:

  • No. 1, “Can’t Buy Me Love”
  • No. 2, “Twist and Shout”
  • No. 3, “She Loves You”
  • No. 4, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
  • No. 5, “Please Please Me”

I have written about The Beatles impact on the time surrounding the 1964 Olympics, not only on Japan but on people around the world. In 1964, Olympians coming to Tokyo, particularly from Europe and the United States, knew of Beatlemania, sang their songs, and saw on TV the screaming hordes of girls chasing the four lads from Liverpool wherever they went. There was even a group called The Tokyo Beatles!

On April 27, I got a tiny taste .

In 1966, the Beatles played the more intimate Budokan, built to showcase judo in the Tokyo Olympiad. However, I saw Paul McCartney perform in the Tokyo Dome, a baseball stadium not built for concert acoustics. But that was OK! We were in the presence of the Walrus!

The concert began with the most iconic of pop music sounds – the jarring clanging opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

And then Sir Paul played for over two hours, ending in the communal “lah lah lah, lah lah lah lah” of Hey Jude.

When he left the stage, we knew he’d be back for an encore. When McCartney re-emerged, he played the most covered single of all time, his very own “Yesterday.” He could have easily walked off the stage and ended the night on a high. But he then barked out the reprise to “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”. He could have ended the night with the lyrics, “We hope you have enjoyed the show….we’re sorry but it’s time to go,” but he didn’t.

Next up was a song from his Wings days, “Hi Hi Hi”. You knew he couldn’t end on a Wings song, but he took an interesting turn by celebrating the birthday of a band member with, of course, the Beatles upbeat song, “Birthday”.

I’ve never been to a Beatles concert, but there must be an appropriate way to end one, and that would be with the “Medley” from side 2 of my favorite Beatles’ album – Abbey Road. I was ecstatic! The perfect finish! After the pulsating drum solo, McCartney brought it all to an end with these lyrics:

And in the end

The love you take

Is equal to the love you make

McCartney is 74. And yet, he played for a solid 2 hours and 40 minutes. There were times when his voice cracked, and some of the faster songs felt slower than normal….which is OK because this is Japan where people stay seated….after all, the average age in the Dome must have been about 64.

As my wife screamed “Paul!”, and McCartney soaked in the applause, he told the crowd he loved us all – “Minna-san daisuki!” And maybe he says that to all the crowds. But his encore went on and on, lingering as if he had little desire to depart. Even after his final song, he stayed on stage to say good bye before walking off, stage left.

I experienced only a tingling of Beatlemania that the Olympians of 1964 did, but maybe, I’m amazed…at the way you pulled me out of time.

 

Paul McCartney One on One Tour T-Shirt
My T-shirt!

hotel-okura-under-construction-1961
Hotel Okura under construction in 1961
It was the middle of winter, and yet on January 1, 1964, Tokyo was hot! In fact, the way the foreign press described it, Japan was running a temperature!

“Japan Feverishly Prepares for the 1964 Olympic Games” – AP, January 1, 1964

“World’s Biggest City Suffering Olympic Fever” – UPI, January 2, 1964

Here’s how the major American news services – AP and UPI – explained the state of Tokyo only 10 months before the opening of the XVIII Olympiad:

A strange fever previously unknown in the Orient is gripping Japan. Symptoms include intense worry and a driving compulsion to build things. It’s called Olympic fever. Japan is lunging helter skelter toward that magic day when the 1964 Olympic games open in Tokyo. (AP)

The entire city is afflicted with “Olympic hysteria”, from the prime minister whose political future hinges on the games to the man in the street who curses the inconveniences he has to put up with for the Olympics: the high prices he has to pay, the scaffoldings he had to duck, the torn-up streets around which he has to detour. (UPI)

Again, this was 1964, less than a generation removed from the devastating effects of the Pacific War. Indeed, Tokyo was still emerging (and groaning) from the physical and emotional remains of war rubble, at least as the AP described it:

Tokyo essentially is a city just 18 years old, built on piles of ashes and rubble left by American bombers during World War II. Tokyo has grown haphazardly since 1945, with small, almost ramshackle, houses springing up in disorderly profusion along twisting, narrow streets. Trains are overcrowded. Prices are high. The city chronically has been short of housing, water – just about everything today’s tourists wants and expects. The population has grown so much (to more than 10 millions) that the city fathers have pleaded with the youth of Japan to stay on their farms in the villages and not come to the big city. But on they come, crowding in where there is no room.

national-gymnasium-under-construction
The National Gymnasium complex under construction in Tokyo on June 6, 1964, just a few months before the games were to begin. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
While it might be hard to imagine today in Tokyo, where large-scale construction is on the whole, relatively and remarkably quiet and unobtrusive, it was for Tokyo denizens in the early 1960s, the bane of their existence. And safety was at times taken for granted, according to AP:

Tokyo, the largest, noisiest, most crowded city in the world, is getting a needed facelifting. The roar of new buildings and bridges going up – and occasionally falling down – fills the night and day. Bamboo scaffolding is everywhere and thousands of workmen clamber up and down, painting and plastering, putting finishing touches on new hotels, restaurants and night clubs.

At least two major Olympic construction projects have collapsed – an elevated expressway and the steel frame roof for a swimming pool. One person was killed and 25 were injured…. In an editorial titled, “no Fun and Games,” Yomiuri declared inexperienced workmen are being used on many Olympic projects and elementary safety precautions are being ignored.

We are three years away from January, 2020. Will history repeat itself? Will Tokyo be an overcrowded, noisy, chaotic city creaking its way to the Opening Ceremonies on July 24, 2020? I doubt it. Will Tokyo again be gripped in Olympic fever? Most definitely yes.